Japanese Verbs — An easy guide in expressing action words

In this lesson, we’ll learn about one of the foundations of all languages — Japanese verbs. Learning a new language means you definitely need to study verbs. Nouns are usually easy enough to learn, but Japanese verbs are often harder to master because of different verb conjugations and rules.

Girl using laptop

Japanese Verbs

One of the most important parts of communication is verbs. Of course, we use verbs every single day to express our actions. Mastering the basic verb forms and simple verb conjugations is one of the first steps you can take in your language-learning journey.

Below, we’ll discuss the different verb types and verb conjugation patterns of the Japanese language then you can make example sentences by the end of this lesson!

Japanese Verb Conjugation

The conjugation of Japanese verbs differs from that of English verbs. Japanese verb conjugation consists solely of changing the last vowel of the dictionary form of the verb, as well as adding a suffix sometimes. The first verb conjugation beginners normally learn is the long masu-form.

The masu-form can be used in the present and future tense. It’s also the polite form or more formal way of speaking Japanese, and it is used when talking to your acquaintances, superiors, co-workers, and people you don’t know.

While there is a more casual short form, it’s best to start with the long form so you can have an easier understanding of how each verb conjugation pattern works.

Japanese Verbs Dictionary Form

The basic verb form of all Japanese verbs ends with “u”. This is also called dictionary form and is the informal, present affirmative form of the verb. It’s because that’s how you’ll look up a verb in a dictionary.

This form is used among close friends and family in informal situations. Japanese verbs always contain two parts: a verb stem and a suffix. When conjugating Japanese verbs, you’ll have to start with the verb stem so be sure you’re able to identify the stems of Japanese verbs.

Note: In Japanese grammar, the term “verb stem”, also known as “masu-form/stem” refers to the verb base and is used in a variety of phrases. When a verb is in its “masu-form”, the best approach to identify the verb stem is to delete the “masu”. In the table below, the dictionary form is on the left, and the masu-form is on the right.

Examples of common Japanese Verbs 

EnglishRomajiHiraganaRomajiHiragana
to eattaberuたべるtabemasuたべます
to drinknomuのむnomimasuのみます
to see miruみるmimasuみます

Now that you know the basis of Japanese verbs, let’s separate them a bit further. Japanese verbs are split into three groups according to their plain form. Let’s go over the grammatical rules.

Japanese Verb Groups

In the Japanese language, the verbs are grouped into three.

  • Group 1 – u-verbs – godan verbs
  • Group 2 – ru-verbs – ichidan verbs
  • Group 3 – irregular verbs

Each verb group has different conjugation patterns so it is very important to learn them.

In plain form, ichidan verbs are verbs ending with -いる (-iru) or -える (-eru). With a few exceptions, this means that if a verb does not end in -いる (-iru) or -える (-eru), it is a godan verb. There are only two irregular verbs. くる (kuru) and する (suru). We’ll talk more about them later.

When learning Japanese, conjugating verbs is significantly important, and memorizing the categories will be very helpful in improving fluency. You’ll notice how they differ. If we disregard the Japanese writing system, godan verbs have a consonant stem, but ichidan verbs have vowel stem ends. Now, let’s talk about the different groups.

 Examples of Godan Verbs

Japanese U Verbs 

The first Japanese verb type is the u-verbs. The Japanese u-verbs are also known as Godan verbs. In written Japanese, you can see that each verb ends in the う-line on the hiragana chart when they’re in plain form, which is why they’re often referred to as u-verbs.

Remember the order of vowels in our previous lesson on Japanese vowels? They’re easy to remember because each vowel sound never changes! To refresh your memory, it’s あ、い、う、え、お. Godan means five steps in Japanese so it took its name “godan verb” from these five sounds.

For u-verbs, the stem sound determines the verb conjugation. Let’s take a look at the verb “kaku”.

EnglishRomajiHiraganaRomajiHiragana
To writekakuかくkakimasuかきます

The stem form of the verb kaku is kak and the suffix is u. To conjugate the verb, break the verb into its stem form and add “imasu” at the end. Now that you know how to conjugate u-verbs let’s take a look at some common u-verbs and their masu-form conjugations.

To conjugate for the negative form, remove “masu” and add “masen”. For past tense, change “masu” to “mashita”. And to conjugate to past negative form, change “masu” to “masen deshita”.

EnglishDictionary FormMasu-FormMasu-Past Tense FormMasu-Negative FormMasu-Past Negative Form
to listen きく
kiku
ききます
kikimasu
ききました
kikimashita
ききません
kikimasen
ききませんでした
kikimasen deshita
to sayいう
iu
いいます
iimasu
いいました
iimashita
いいません
iimasen
いいませんでした
iimasen deshita
to walk あるく
aruku
あるきます
arukimasu



あるきました
arukimashita
あるきません
arukimasen
あるきませんでした
arukimasen deshita
to runはしる
hashiru
はしります
hashirimasu
はしりました
hashirimashita
はしりません
hashirimasen
はしりませんでした
hashirimasen deshita
to take とる
toru
とります
torimasu
とりました
torimashita
とりません
torimasen
とりませんでした
torimasen deshita
to hold つかむ
tsukamu
つかみます
tsukamimasu
つかみました
tsukamimashita
つかみません
tsukamimasen
つかみませんでした
tsukamimasen deshita
to stand たつ
tatsu
たちます
tachimasu
たちました
tachimashita
たちません
tachimasen
たちませんでした
tachimasen deshita
to work はたらく
hataraku
はたらきます
hatarakimasu
はたらきました
hatarakimashita
はたらきません
hatarakimasen
はたらきませんでした
hatarakimasen deshita
to take off (clothes/shoes)ぬぐ
nugu
ぬぎます
nugimasu
ぬぎました
nugimashita
ぬぎません
nugimasen
ぬぎませんでした
nugimasen deshita
to go いく
iku
いきます
ikimasu
いきました
ikimashita
いきません
ikimasen
いきませんでした
ikimasen deshita

Tip: To give you a better idea, if you look at their masu-form, they all end with an i-sound if you omit the auxiliary verb “masu”. They usually end with い、ち、 り、 び、 み、 に、 き、or し. This is also one way to determine u-verbs or godan verbs. Looking at verb bases helps a lot in determining verb groups.

Example sentences:

Maria already went home.

マリアは既に家に帰りました。

マリアはすでにいえにかえりました。

Maria wa sudeni ie ni kaerimashita.

I want to drink coffee.

私はコーヒーを飲みたいです。

わたしはコーヒーをのみたいです。

watashi wa ko-hi- o nomitai desu.

Examples of Ichidan Verbs

Japanese Ru Verbs

The second verb type is the ru-verbs. The Japanese ru-verbs are also known as Ichidan verbs. These verbs are the easiest to conjugate. To conjugate “ru-verbs” into the masu-form, drop the final “ru” verb ending in their dictionary form and simply add “masu”.

To conjugate into the negative form, simple past forms, and past negative, it’s the same way as conjugating godan verbs or u-verbs.

EnglishDictionary FormMasu-FormMasu-Past Tense FormMasu-Negative FormMasu-Past Negative Form
to eatたべる
taberu
たべます
tabemasu
たべました
tabemashita
たべません
tabemasen
たべませんでした
tabemasen deshita
to seeみる
miru
みます
mimasu
みました
mimashita
みません
mimasen
みませんでした
mimasen deshita
to wake upおきる
okiru
おきます
okimasu
おきました
okimashita
おきません
okimasen
おきませんでした
okimasen deshita
to thinkかんがえる
kangaeru
かんがえます
kangaemasu
かんがえました
kangaemashita
かんがえません
kangaemasen
かんがえませんでした
kangaemasen deshita
to teachおしえる
oshieru
おしえます
oshiemasu
おしえました
oshiemashita
おしえません
oshiemasen
おしえませんでした
oshiemasen deshita
to come outでる
deru
でます
demasu
でました
demashita
でません
demasen
でませんでした
demasen deshita
to wearきる
kiru
きます
kimasu
きました
kimashita
きません
kimasen
きませんでした
kimasen deshita
to sleepねる
neru
ねます
nemasu
ねました
nemashita
ねません
nemasen
ねませんでした
nemasen deshita
to answerこたえる
kotaeru
こたえます
kotaemasu
こたえました
kotaemashita
こたえません
kotaemasen
こたえませんでした
kotaemasen deshita
to existいる
iru
います
imasu
いました
imashita
いません
imasen
いませんでした
imasen deshita

Tip: If you look at their verb base or masu-form, they all end with an e-sound if you omit “masu”. These verbs usually end with え、て、れ、べ、ね、め、け、げ、or せ. This is also one way to determine ichidan or ru verbs.

Example sentences:

I forgot my wallet.

私の財布を忘れました。

わたしのさいふをわすれました。

watashi no saifu o wasuremashita.

Today, I will go out.

今日は出かけます。

きょうはでかけます。

kyou wa dekakemasu.

Irregular Verbs

Japanese Irregular Verbs 

Finally, the third verb type is the irregular verb! There are always exceptions to every rule and Japanese verbs are no different. Luckily there are only two Japanese irregular verbs that you have to be careful of when conjugating; する (suru) and くる (kuru).

These two verbs don’t conjugate with any other verb but their conjugation rules aren’t difficult. する (suru) is the most common verb you’ll come across as it means “to do”. It’s often combined with many nouns to create a verb.

To conjugate する (suru), the “su” turns into “shi” and then add “masu” to the end. So it becomes します (shimasu). The past and negative form conjugations of する (suru) follow the same patterns as regular ru-verbs and u-verbs. Let’s look at the chart below.

EnglishDictionary FormMasu-FormMasu-Past Tense FormMasu-Negative FormMasu-Negative Past Form
to doする
suru
します
shimasu
しました
shimashita
しません
shimasen
しませんでした
shimasen deshita
to travelりょこうする
ryoukousuru
りょこうします
ryokoushimasu
りょこうしました
ryokoushimashita
りょこうしません
ryokoushimasen
りょこうしませんでした
ryokoushimasen deshita
to studyべんきょうする
benkyousuru
べんきょうします
benkyoushimasu
べんきょうしました
benkyoushimashita
べんきょうしません
benkyoushimasen
べんきょうしませんでした
benkyoushimasen deshita
to eat and drinkいんしょくする
inshokusuru
いんしょくします
inshokushimasu
いんしょくしました
inshokushimashita
いんしょくしません
inshokushimasen
いんしょくしませんでした
inshokushimasen deshita
to oversleepねぼうする
nebousuru
ねぼうします
neboushimasu
ねぼうしました
naboushimashita
ねぼうしません
neboushimasen
ねぼうしませんでした
naboushimasen deshita
to loveあいする
aisuru
あいします
aishimasu
あいしました
aishimashita
あいしません
aishimasen
あいしませんでした
aishimasen deshita
to buy and sellばいばいする
baibaisuru
ばいばいします
baibaishimasu
ばいばいしました
baibaishimashita
ばいばいしません
baibaishimasen
ばいばいしませんでした
baibaishimasen deshita
to cancelキャンセルする
kyanserusuru
キャンセルします
kyanserushimasu
キャンセルしました
kyanserushimashita
キャンセルしませんkyanserushimasenキャンセルしませんでした
kyanserushimasen deshita
to be surprisedびっくりする
bikkurisuru 
びっくりします
bikkurishimasu
びっくりしました
bikkurishimashita
びっくりしません
bikkurishimasen
びっくりしませんでした
bikkurishimasen deshita
to use りようする
riyousuru
りようします
riyoushimasu
りようしました
riyoushimashita
りようしません
riyoushimasen
りようしませんでした
riyoushimasen deshita
to place an orderちゅうもんする
chuumonsuru
ちゅうもんします
chuumonshimasu
ちゅうもんしました
chuumonshimashita
ちゅうもんしません
chuumonshimasen
ちゅうもんしませんでした
chuumonshimasen deshita
to driveうんてんする
untensuru
うんてんします
untenshimasu
うんてんしました
untenshimashita
うんてんしません
untenshimasen
うんてんしませんでした
untenshimasen deshita
to be reservedえんりょする
enryosuru
えんりょします
enryoshimasu
えんりょしました
enryoshimashita
えんりょしません
enryoshimasen
えんりょしませんでした
enryoshimasen deshita
to opposeはんたいする
hantaisuru
はんたいします
hantaishimasu
はんたいしました
hantaishimashita
はんたいしません
hantaishimasen
はんたいしませんでした
hantaishimasen deshita

The next irregular verb is くる (kuru) which means “to come” in English. When conjugating, the verb the stem of くる (kuru) is き (ki). Thus when changing to past or present tense, change くる (kuru) to き (ki) and add ます (masu) to the end. Let’s take a look at the chart below.

EnglishDictionary FormMasu-FormMasu-Past Tense FormMasu-Negative FormMasu-Past Negative Form
to comeくる
kuru
きます
kimasu
きました
kimashita
きません
kimasen
きませんでした
kimasen deshita

Example sentences:

My friend will get married today.

私の友達は今日結婚します。

わたしのともだちはきょうけっこんします。

watashi no tomodachi wa kyou kekkon shimasu.

We will take a walk in the park.

私達は公園を散歩します。

わたしたちはこうえんをさんぽします。

watashitachi wa kouen o sanpo shimasu.

Common Japanese Verbs List

Here is a common Japanese verbs list that has verbs that you should know. Some of these verbs are essentially used every day so it’s important to learn them.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
to use
使うつかうtsukau
to move 
動くうごくugoku
to sit
座るすわるsuwaru
to bend 
曲げるまげるmageru
to search 探すさがす
sagasu
to play 遊ぶあそぶasobu
to get on (vehicle)乗るのるnoru
to get off (vehicle)降りるおりるoriru
to start 始めるはじめるhajimeru
to finish 終えるおえる oeru 
to close閉めるしめるshimeru
to stop止めるとめるtomeru
to put置くおくoku 
to wait 待つまつmatsu 
to rest休む やむすyasumu
to learn 学ぶ まなぶmanabu
to give与えるあたえるataeru
to visit 訪れるおとずれるotozureru
to leave去るさるsaru
to sell売るうるuru
to live 生きるいきるikiru
to die 死ぬしぬshinu
to have -あるaru
to read読むよむyomu
to buy買うかうkau
to open開けるあけるakeru

Japanese Tenses

Japanese tenses are mainly made up of two tenses, unlike the English language. They’re the present tense and the past tense. Both tenses are expressed using verb conjugations.

This also means that in the Japanese language, there’s no conjugation for the future tense.  If you want to express an action in the future, you can use the present tense conjugations used for the different types of verbs.

Japanese Present Tense

The Japanese present tense of verbs can be expressed depending on the type of verb. You’ll use います (imasu) for Godan verbs while ます (masu) for Ichidan verbs.

ません (masen) on the other hand is used for both Godan and Ichidan verbs when negating the action in the present tense.

Japanese Past Tense

The Japanese past tense is expressed using ました (mashita). This can be used for both Godan and Ichidan verbs.

When negating a verb in the past tense, いませんでした (imasen deshita) is used for Godan verbs whileませのでした (masen deshita) for Ichidan verbs.

Japanese Future Tense

Japanese verbs don’t have a specific form or conjugation for the future tense. Instead, the Japanese future tense can be expressed using the present tense.

Conclusion

In this article, we explained some of the most common Japanese verbs and explained the basic verb conjugations in the long masu-form. As you become more familiar with Japanese verb conjugation patterns you’ll expand your Japanese vocabulary and have a better command of the language.

Girl reading a book

While these are the most common verbs, there are many verbs and many more conjugation forms out there to learn to express actions better. We haven’t talked about how to use a transitive verb. And the different forms of the verb — causative form, conditional form, imperative form, and potential form.

So be sure to check out our other articles to help you continue along your Japanese language journey.

がんばってください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

    2 replies to "Japanese Verbs — An easy guide in expressing action words"

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